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The Legal William Shakespeare

This past April marked the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.  See Happy Birthday William Shakespeare!  In 37 plays, Shakespeare wrote of kings, generals, lovers, and fools. He also made frequent mention of law.  He uses the word “law” approximately 200 times in 176 speeches in 36 different works.

But what about lawyers?   By my count, Shakespeare uses the word “lawyer”, “lawyer’s” or “lawyers” only about 14 times in 10 different works.  The words “attorney”, “attorneys”, “attorney’d” and “attorneyed” appear another 12 times.

Perhaps, the most famous Shakespearean line involving lawyers was Dick the Butcher’s enthusiastic cry of “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Henry VI, Part II, Act IV, Scene 2.  However, my own favorite was the Fool’s riposte to the Earl of Kent in Act I, Scene 4 of King Lear:

Earl of Kent.     This is nothing, fool.
Fool.                     Then ’tis like the breath of an unfeed lawyer- you gave me nothing for’t. Can you make no use of nothing, nuncle?

All in all, it does seem that Shakespeare had a rather dim view of lawyers.  In Act IV, Scene 4 of Richard III, he has Queen Elizabeth say:

Windy attorneys to their client woes,
Airy succeeders of intestate joys,
Poor breathing orators of miseries!
Let them have scope: though what they do impart
Help not all, yet do they ease the heart.

The Bard and corporations

As a corporate and securities lawyer, I was also interested in whether Shakespeare used the word corporation.  However, I was unable to find a single use of the word “corporation” in any of Shakespeare’s plays, but he did use the word “corporate” twice (in Act III, Scene 2 of Henry IV, Part II and Act II, Scene 2 of Timon of Athens).

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